Opinion: the Government’s new integration strategy – when are we going to learn?

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) recently published and launched its new integration strategy – “Creating the Conditions for Integration”. Following discussions with many concerned Lib Dem party members and feedback from Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community organisations involved in race equality work, I am now more convinced than ever that this document does little to address the persistent racial inequalities that exist across the nation. The Government for their part are trumpeting this publication as equivalent to a race equality strategy – although one which has diminishing credibility within BAME communities up and down the country.

Providing few real solutions on how to foster integration, the most amusing of which are the ‘Big Lunch’, community music days and support for organisations such as the Scouts and Girlguiding UK, it appears that Pickles in particular, does not view this as a two way process. This follows on from complaints that the consultation process with BAME groups was short and inadequate leading to an absence of evidence to support a number of unsafe assertions. In short, this document is never going to be a serious substitute for a strategy to tackle integration, racism, racial injustice and the perceived insecurities faced by all the communities it sets out to engage.

Whilst there are a number of serious gaping weaknesses in the Government’s approach, the cry of ‘integration’ and not ‘assimilation’ from local communities has definitely not been heard. The document states that the Government will promote a “clear sense of shared aspirations and values, which focuses on what we have in common rather than our differences”. Feedback suggests that whilst BAME groups recognise the importance of building a Britain in which all communities share a common sense of belonging, it is important that in line with the EU Common Basic Principles on Integration, that integration is a two way process of mutual accommodation.

Indeed, there are real concerns that this is not the Governments intention – Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary in particular has managed quite effortlessly to poison the debate. His comments in the Daily Mail and the Express in conjunction with the strategy’s publication focused on how it will promote ‘British values’, ‘national unity’ and argued for the importance of adhering to ‘mainstream’ and ‘majority values’.

Rather than integration being a two way process, his comments instead forcefully suggest that people from minority ethnic backgrounds are somehow a threat to these values or to a unified country.

Despite the huge and positive contribution being made by our own Andrew Stunell MP, Under Secretary of State for Community Cohesion and Race Equality, there is a growing fear that this area of work is being hijacked by Eric Pickles i.e. the strategy is Tory guided rather than Lib Dem led.

On its own, the strategy is insufficient to tackle some of the entrenched racial inequalities existing in England:

• Almost half of back young people and 31% of Asian young people are unemployed.

• There are three times as many young black men in prison as in Russell Group universities

• In 2010 only 6.8% of Black Caribbean pupils achieved the English Baccalaureate measure of achievement compared to 15.4% of white British pupils.

Please let us not suggest for a moment that all these inequalities are solely due to racism, or any one simple factor. They have complex causes and therefore need bespoke and strategic approaches to tackle them in consultation and partnership with community organisations on the ground.

Offering simplistic integration strategies therefore, which advocate ‘Big Lunches’ and counter-pluralistic arguments around building common cultures will do nothing but repeat the failed and outdated mantras of assimilation which went out of fashion in the 80’s.

A comprehensive, cross-departmental race equality strategy including concrete policy proposals and substantial evidence is what is needed. Anything else will not solve these deep seated challenges, will lead to a greater lack of trust, suspicion and a continuation of people living in parallel communities.

* Issan Ghazni is Chair of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and former National Diversity Adviser for the Liberal Democrats. Issan blogs here

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6 Comments

  • Jonathan Hunt 28th Mar '12 - 5:55pm

    Well done Issan in taking up this key issue, and brining together a range of viewpoints. I don’t think it required this report to make black people of all races aware that we live in an increasingly unequal and discriminatory society.

    In times past, Liberals and Liberal Democrats would have been in the forefront of protests and those calling for social justice. I am one of many who despair of our party having the commitment or courage to fight for a Liberal Democratic society which lives up to our famous and oft quoted preamble as far as black and minority ethnic people are involved.

    I was brought up in a Conservative household to believe that British values included treating people of all colours, races and classes equally and with courtesy. Thatcher, Pickles and Co were obviously deprived of such core British principles..

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